The Narendra Modi government has approved 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward from the general category in government jobs and higher education. The government will now move a bill on January 8 in Parliament to amend Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution. The bill, if passed, will benefit the economically backward from the general category and will benefit several upper castes.
The reservation would only be provided to those who meet certain qualifying standards.
A person will be qualified as 'economically backward' or weak if their annual income is below Rs 8 lakh, if they own agricultural land less than five hectares, if they own homes smaller than 1,000 sq. ft, if they own residential plots below 109 yards in a notified municipality and if they own a residential plot below 209 yards in a non-notified municipality.
The decision is being viewed as the Modi government's trump card in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Several upper castes who stand to gain from this decision include Baniyas, Jats and Gujjars among others. They have been traditionally viewed as hardcore BJP supporters.
After facing defeats in the recent Assembly polls in three states of the Hindi heartland, the BJP would want to win back its upper caste support base.
Although the party still enjoys substantial support from these caste groups, the Congress has been able to successfully poach some of these voters.
The move by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh, to oppose the ruling of the MP High Court staying reservations for SC/STs for promotion in government jobs, had not gone down well with its upper caste voters.
Opposing this move, employees belonging to general category, OBCs and minorities came together under the umbrella of SAPAK (Samanya Aur Pichhda Adhikari Karmchari Sangthan) and even decided to contest the 2018 Assembly polls.
Although SAPAK failed to make a political dent during the polls, it did alarm the BJP government to the brewing discontent among these caste groups.
The Centre's move to bring in an ordinance diluting the Apex court's ruling on the SC/ST Atrocities Act has also not gone down well with its upper caste supporters.
Reservation for the economically weak from the upper castes is also a demand frequently raised by the RSS.
The move again shows both the Sangh and the BJP are working together as far as 2019's electoral strategy is concerned.
It will also effectively counter the recent temple run of the Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who has been lately pitching himself as a 'janeudhari Shiv bhakt'.
The BJP would also like to counter the mahagathbandhan's votebank, where the coming together of the SP and BSP spells doom for the BJP's dream in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.
While the BJP would hope to retain its backward caste voters using the PM's own appeal, the bill, if passed, will be a major shot in the party's arm as far as winning over upper castes is concerned.
How much this will affect the voters from the beneficiaries of the existing quotas is still a matter of conjecture. But this much is certain. The opposition parties have been dealt a major blow by the Modi government.